BCC learns CARES Act probably can’t be used for new health department

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 9/30/20

CLAY COUNTY – The county’s health department is hurting.

The Board of County Commissioners have been talking for weeks about purchasing a new building for the state’s health department here …

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BCC learns CARES Act probably can’t be used for new health department

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – The county’s health department is hurting.

The Board of County Commissioners have been talking for weeks about purchasing a new building for the state’s health department here in Clay County and it had plans to do so with CARES Act money, which is federal funding given to Clay County to help businesses, individuals, nonprofits and more handle financial needs amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic.

It might not be possible though.

“It’s not recommended at this time,” CARES Act lead Troy Nagle said. “We don’t know if purchasing a building is indeed covered by CARES Act money.”

The county has already spent $7.6 million in CARES Act money and has committed to $13.9 million with a total budget amount of more than $20 million. Not all dollars have been spent or committed to being spent yet and currently, the county is expecting $17,685,766 in reimbursement from the federal government. Nagle said as the county progresses in its CARES Act spending, additional sources of reimbursement might be found.

Reimbursement was the hot topic during the Sept. 29 special BCC meeting. That’s because it might be the only avenue to fund the purchase of a new building for the health department, a department of workers in dire need of a new home.

“This has been a real struggle,” health department administrator Heather Huffman said through tears. “We’re in a deplorable building, roofs are leaking, mold is in the building...this is emotional for me because we’ve worked tirelessly seven days a week for seven months straight.”

She said social distancing is basically impossible as it limits the clinical waiting operation room to just two. Shots are administered in cars as a result and Huffman said that translates to employees walking back and forth to cars in the parking lot that floods often and the health department building.

She said there’s 23 employees working at the building, which consists of 2,500 square feet of space.

Nagle and the BCC were originally hopeful that CARES Act money could be spent directly on the purchase of a new building for the health department but it’s not seeming likely. The county will instead likely need to wait until they are reimbursed the roughly $17 million expected, which goes to the general fund, and then spend that money as if it were general fund money. That’s Nagle’s recommendation at least.

“It’d be better to buy a building that already exists than to build a new one,” commissioners Mike Cella said. “That’s where I’d like to see the money go. All of these other things are great but in terms of priorities, its nonprofits, businesses and individuals, and public health. I’d love to see us do more roads or something like that, but I think in this case, we have to take care of our people.”

The special meeting was expected to be the moment the BCC and many others have been waiting for: can CARES Act money be used to purchase a new health department building? The answer is leaning toward no, but the BCC is determined to find a way to make it work – for Huffman, her coworkers and of course, the people of Clay County.

The decision on this building is now expected for a regular meeting to be held on Oct. 13.

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